True characters


Birgitta Hedin-Curtin, Burren Smokehouse

I am not originally from Clare .. . I grew up on the Baltic coast of Sweden on a farm outside Nykoping. We had forestry, tillage and the Baltic Sea as part of our farm. We were hunter gatherers, foraging for blueberries, lingonberries, chanterelles. My father hunted for moose, roe deer, hare, pheasant, wild duck of all sorts, and we fished perch, pike, and especially eel. My grandfather would have juniper-smoked the eel for household use.

What brought me to Ireland . .. I wanted to see the world and I had a special affinity with the Celtic countries (it must be my Viking blood). I was looking for the salty Atlantic, the traditional music and new experiences. I found it all and also – which was not part of my agenda at 18-and-a-half – the love of my life, Peter, in a wonderful and inspiring area called the Burren.

At the Burren Smokehouse we smoke Irish products .. . Our Irish silver premium salmon swim in Lough Swilly, our Irish organic salmon is from Clare Island, Co Mayo. Our Irish wild salmon (back in our range only since 2011) is snap-netted by Barbara Grubb in the River Blackwater and by Mick and Trish Murphy in the River Nore. The wild mackerel is the winter mackerel caught between November and February and landed at Killybegs, Our trout comes from Mag Kirwan of Goatsbridge, in Co Kilkenny.

Our salmon is sold all over the world . .. we’ve sent it to a Saudi Arabian princess’s wedding, Dean Deluca in the US and Kuwait, and to private customers as far away as Japan. We were asked by Ross Lewis, Michelin-star chef from Chapter One, to supply it for the State dinner in Dublin Castle for Queen Elizabeth II. We also supply Fortnum Mason under their label Irish Smoked Irish Organic Salmon.

I like to eat . . .Burren smoked Irish wild salmon with Burren Black Stout brown bread, rocket, beetroot, baby spinach salad with a dressing of Newgrange rapeseed oil and Llewellyn balsamic cider vinegar, pine nuts and some Cratloe Hills sheep cheese shavings.

To secure the future of Ireland’s food heritage . . .we need to access new markets in high-end speciality food shops, in Ireland and globally, to showcase some of the unique food products from Ireland, the garden of Europe. Artisan producers need to network more, pool resources and share distribution channels.

Doing business in the food sector . . .is hard and rewarding work. I have met so many lovely people that have become great friends of mine that I can learn from and ask for advice.

If I wasn’t doing this . . .I’d be working in the health sector, in nutrition and physiotherapy, or massage.

When I’m not working . . .I love to listen to music, and when there is a live band with jazz, blues, bluegrass or rock in our pub, the Roadside Tavern, I love to dance.

My earliest food memory is . . .the warmth and security of drinking my mother’s milk. Another outstanding memory is picking sun-warm wild strawberries at the edge of the forest and melting them in my mouth. And butter-fried chanterelles on crispbread.

The best thing I’ve ever eaten . .. would be my mother’s Sunday dinners in Sweden. For starters, Smorgasbord with smoked eel and whole smoked herring and crisp bread, then moose steak, cream sauce, boiled peeled potatoes and redcurrant jelly, then apple crumble with cream.

My most memorable restaurant meals are . . .Mickael Viljanen’s tasting menu at Gregan’s Castle, and the tasting menu from Pedro Subijana at Akelarre in San Sebastian.

* Birgitta Hedin-Curtin is a patron of the annual Blas na hÉireann, Irish Food Awards. Entries are now being invited for the 2012 competition. See

In conversation with MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBY